Dexter Creek

Round Trip Distance: 10.1 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 8613 - 11,574 feet
Elevation gain: 4,605 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 6 hrs. 45 mins.
Trailhead: Dexter Creek
Fee: none
Attractions: Forest hike, Scenic views

The Dexter Creek trail is located in the Mountain Division of the Uncompahgre National Forest near Ouray, Colorado. The trail begins at the abandoned Bachelor Gold Mine and climbs along the Dexter Creek drainage, passing 2 more abandoned mines enroute, to a ridge that overlooks the Cimarron Range and Wetterhorn Peak. Once on the ridge the Difficult Creek trail breaks off on the right and the Dexter Creek trail continues down the northeast side of the ridge to where it comes to an end at a junction with the Cutler Creek and Baldy trails. For this post we follow the Dexter Creek trail to the ridge and then hunt for a few good overlooks along the Difficult Creek trail before returning to the trailhead.

To get to the trailhead drive north on Highway 550 from the Ouray Hot Springs Pool for 1.6 miles and turn right on County Road 14, the Dexter Creek Road. Bear to the right near the 1 mile point, where County Road 14A splits off on the left. Continue following County Road 14 for a little less than a mile and a half as it climbs up the canyon along Dexter Creek. The Dexter Creek trailhead and parking area appears just before a bridgeless creek crossing. The road is generally passable with a passenger vehicle during dry weather. There are a few primitive campsites along the road and several more near the trailhead.

The trail begins climbing immediately by switchbacking up to a trail register where you can sign in to let Search and Rescue know who is in the area and what their plans are should they ever be called upon for their services.

At the 0.33 mile point from the trailhead be sure and watch for a sign that directs you across the wash. There is a pretty good looking trail that continues straight ahead. If all you are concentrating on  is following the trail the one straight ahead might draw your attention away from the sign in the wash which doesn't look like much of a trail at all.

As the trail continues working its way up Dexter Creek it passes a couple more abandoned gold mines, the Almadi Mine and the Old Maid Mine. Most of the wooden structures are decaying away but metal objects like an old boiler and steam engines are holding up quite well. Several tin covered buildings are also still standing.

After passing the mines the trail crosses several more side drainages and then begins climbing a big evenly sloped ridge. The hike up the sharp grade of the mountainside is mitigated by numerous long sweeping switchbacks. The Dexter Creek trail isn't without its steep sections though. There is at least one place where the grade hits 65%. Fortunately that angle lasts only for a short distance.

At the 2.25 mile point the Dexter Creek trail crosses into the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area.

It is interesting that a trail can be both somewhat brutal yet also sublime and peaceful. The week that we hiked the trail for this post we had already logged over 60 miles of trail so our perception may have been tainted by our tired legs. Still, you can't argue with the natural beauty of the area.

Eventually the trail turns up a north fork of Dexter Creek which it crosses several times as it continues to climb. There are several open stretches where the wildflowers and other plants are in such competition for their place in the sun that they grow almost shoulder high trying to outdo each other. We were wearing shorts on this hike but long pants would have been more appropriate. This last stretch of trail up to the ridge alternates between open meadows and forest. Overall it is also probably the steepest part of the trail.

Once on the ridge the trail comes to the Difficulty Creek junction. This junction is purported to be 4 miles from the trailhead but our two GPS devices were showing 4.6 and 4.75 miles. (The discrepancy between the 2 devices is because one if showing linear distance and the other is showing terrain distance. Terrain distance takes into account the change in elevation. The difference between the 2 forms of measurement are greater on steep hills.)

The ridge is thickly forested and finding a good overlook isn't easy especially if you want to see off to the east toward Courthouse Mountain and the Coxcombs. Getting a good shot of Wetterhorn Peak is even more challenging. We were practically hanging over a cliff to get this photo. We have climbed Wetterhorn Peak before but looking at it from here just made us want to go hike Wetterhorn Basin again.

Looking west toward the Sneffels Range is a little easier in comparison. Backpackers will find several good places to set up camp along this end of the Difficulty Creek trail.

Here is a good shot of the last mile or so of the trail as it worked its way up the north fork of Dexter Creek to the ridge.

If you hike down the ridge to the Cutler Creek/Baldy junction you will lose over 1,000 feet of elevation that you will have to reclimb. It would probably be a trip best made on horseback or by backpacking for a two day outing. We spent almost 7 hours on this hike and that was without any lunch stop. We did spend a little extra time taking pictures of the mines and searching for good overlooks on the ridge but everyone that hikes the trail will probably do the same. The part of the Dexter Creek trail on the map to the right, from the ridge to the Cutler/Baldy junction, was penciled in since we didn't actually hike it. We traced the trail that was on the map so it is as accurate as the map was but much easier to see. The Dexter Creek trail doesn't seem to get a lot of use up past the mines so regardless of the number of vehicles in the parking area you can probably expect a good deal of solitude. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.